What: Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay, ASP World Tour event # 5
Where: Jeffreys Bay South Africa
When: 9 – 20 July 2008
Eight-time ASP World Champion and current World No. 1 Kelly Slater (USA) holds a substantial ratings lead over the rest of the world’s top 44 surfers heading into the Billabong Pro in Jeffreys Bay, the fifth of 11 stops on the 2008 ASP World Tour – and the only event of this status on the African continent.
The winner of three of the first four events, and undefeated by any of the top 44 this year after losing to a wildcard in the Billabong Pro Tahiti last month, Slater is also the only surfer to have won the J-Bay event three times and finished runner-up to Taj Burrow (AUS) in 2007
“JBay has been one of my best events,” Slater said. “I’ve had three wins out there, but it’s obviously a good event for Taj, a good event for Parko, a good event for Andy and it suits Bede really well.”
Joel Parkinson (AUS), who is ranked second behind Slater and has finished runner-up to the ASP World Title winner twice in his seven years on tour, knows the task at hand is a daunting one. “Kelly is, once again, in great form and he is always hard to beat,” Parkinson said. “The chasing pack has to keep finding another level in their surfing to reach the bar that constantly gets raised.”
Parko won his first-ever ASP World Tour event in Jeffreys Bay as a wildcard in 1999 but despite several quarter and semifinal finishes has been unable to repeat that at Supertubes, a wave he rates one of his favourites. “Without a doubt, JBay is one of my favorite waves on tour,” Parkinson said. “I am looking forward to surfing there again – it is a special place and I am going to be giving it my all this year.”
Bede Durbidge (AUS) is ranked 3rd and enjoying his first season as a solid ASP World Title contender, while Adriano de Souza (BRA), Taj Burrow (AUS), CJ Hobgood (USA), reigning ASP World Champion Mick Fanning (AUS), Andy Irons (HAW), Adrian Buchan (AUS) and Bobby Martinez (USA) round out the current top 10.
The South African challenge is headed by World No. 19 Jordy Smith (Durban). Now in his rookie year as a full time ASP World Tour member, Smith exploded onto the world stage at the Billabong Pro J-Bay as an 18 year-old in 2006. Gaining entrance to the event via the VonZipper Wildcard Trials, he cut a swathe through the top contenders on his way to the semi-finals and equal 3rd place in his first World Tour event.
Smith will be joined by fellow Durbanite Travis Logie, a four-year veteran at this level, and second year campaigners Royden Bryson (East London) and Ricky Basnett (Bluff). All three are determined to take advantage of their intimate knowledge of Supertubes to post good results and boost their ratings.
The Billabong Pro will be preceded by the VonZipper Wildcards Trials which pit eight SA rising stars against four internationals in three heats, with the winner of each heat earning a wildcard into the main event and the opportunity to test their skills against the world’s best surfers.
The SA contingent comprises WQS campaigners Warwick Wright (Durban) and Damien Fahrenfort (Kommetjie), freesurfer and J-Bay local Shaun Payne (Cape St Francis) and Pro Junior stars Rudy Palmboom Jnr (Bluff), Klee Strachan (Winkelspruit), Chad du Toit (Durban), Shaun Joubert (Mossel Bay) and Dale Staples (St Francis Bay).
They will be hard pressed by the internationals who include 1984 J-Bay champ and 1999 ASP World Champion Mark ‘Occy’ Occhilupo (AUS) and the exciting talents of ISA U16 World Champion and runner-up, Tamaroa McComb (TAH) and Peterson Crisanto (BRA) respectively, with the fourth trialist yet to be named.
Occhilupo retired at the end of 2007 but is still a force to be reckoned with, particularly in solid overhead waves at Supertubes where he virtually redefined the art of backhand surfing during his glittering career. As Joel Parkinson puts it: “When it comes down to perfect 6 foot J-Bay, you know Occy has still got it. He is in the trials, so hopefully he gets into the main event and helps the rest of us by taking Kelly out early.”
The Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay runs from July 10-20, an 11 day waiting period during which contest director Mike Parson can select the best possible conditions for the 63 heats required to determine the champion.